It is amazing that there can be so many movies with the exact same plot. In fact, the last movie I reviewed, Heist, also fell into the same caper mode. The plot goes a little something like this: we have the antagonist, who is a retired thief. He did his last caper and retired with the woman he loves to a relaxing life outside of the criminal subspecies. Then an evil dude from his recent past comes to him with an offer to do one more heist — an offer he can’t refuse. He hems and haws, says no, but eventually gives in.
In this case we have to fight through an hour and a half of thick British accents to even understand exactly what’s going on. Unlike the usual caper film, Sexy Beast concentrates more on the characters than the caper itself. There isn’t a single scene with a group of well-dressed thieves rolling out a map on a conference room table, or standing in a public square talking into their sleeves. Most of the typical twists and turns are eliminated in favor of character development and an actual love story between a husband and his wife. In fact, at only 88 minutes, the action sequence is compressed into the end of the film, and really doesn’t play a huge roll at all.
We can also assume that these were more expensive scenes to film, and this was a low budget film. Of course, the big star in this film is Ben Kingsley. Every review I’ve seen of the movie mentioned how he was one of the most menacing bad guys of all time. I didn’t read it the same way. Yes, he was a bit scary, but only because his insecurities and self-doubt make him dangerous. Menace requires a person with a sort of God complex — a person that thinks he is untouchable and beyond being harmed. Don (Ben Kingsley) is the exact opposite. He gives himself pep talks before threatening Gal (Ray Winston). His act of rebellion is purposely peeing on Gal’s carpet while using the toilet. These are the actions of a child, not a menacing psychopath. He is your typical schoolyard bully — all gruff and muscle on the outside, an insecure baby on the inside.
We continue to see his insecurities throughout the movie, especially in his (non)relationship with Deedee, Gal’s friend’s wife. This is the kind of thing that makes this movie interesting. Gal, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants. He isn’t wishy-washy when Don comes to him to try to force him into doing one last job. He loves his retirement. He loves his life. And he loves his ex-porn-star wife without reservations. From the first second Don shows up, Gal never wavers in his convictions. He has made a promise to his wife and to himself that he is done, and even in the face of Don’s “yes! yes! yes!” scene, he doesn’t relent. This scene in which Kingsley screams “Yes!” every time Gal refuses him is extremely funny, and probably one of the clips the producers sent the academy when pushing Kingsley for the Oscar.
There aren’t a ton of surprises in the film, and we know from the beginning how things are going to end up, but the characters are complex and engaging, and the dialogue (the stuff I can understand) is witty and quick. Apparently the director, Jonathan Glazer, is famous for Guinness spots over in England (and maybe the ones in the US?), but this is his first feature. Judging by the cool style in which it was filmed, and the wonderful, nuanced performances he got out of his actors, I assume he’ll be a hot commodity in the near future. Despite all the positive things I’ve said about the movie, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the end result. I know it’s a character driven piece, but the rehashed plot, and some lackluster storytelling kept this one from being a classic.